How to Organize + Display Personal Photos


Okay, I’ll just come out and say it: There are girls who make me jealous of their put-togetherness. Chenin Boutwell is one of those girls…and if I didn’t like her so much, I’d insist she was put on this earth to make me look terrible because I don’t plan meals 76 days in advance, run my home like a world class cruise ship, or own a glue gun. Chenin is a lovely photographer in Orange County, California, but she also blogs at Fudge Banana Swirl. This blog makes me happy because I learn crafting tips and snag healthy recipes, so I can pretend I’m Molly McHomemaker once or twice a year.

I adore the way Chenin organizes her personal photos and creates a photo album at the end of the year, so she kindly offered to share her tips. I look forward to putting together a digital album of my personal photos and I’ll be copying Chenin’s method with precision…

The year is quickly winding down. It’s a time to reflect on the past months, appreciate family and friends, and prepare for a fresh start in January. One way that I do this is by organizing my personal photos and preparing an Annual Family Album.

My Annual Family Album has become a yearly tradition, loved by my kids and coveted by their grandparents. It consists of a visual timeline of my children’s growth and my family’s experiences throughout the year. Organized in a month-by-month fashion, these Annual Family Albums are my most valued possession.

When I tell folks about this yearly tradition, they usually ask the same questions – “How do you find the time?” “How do you keep your photos organized?” and “How do you decide which photos go in the album?” I’m here to say that, with a good system and a little time, you too can have an Annual Family Album to cherish.

If you plan to make an album, keeping your personal photos organized is the first step. Because my album is always organized chronologically, this is how I organize my personal photos. Each time I download a card of personal images, I download them on to a separate “Family Photo Drive” and I immediately organize them in to folders. Each folder is titled YEAR-MO-DAY – DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOS. For example, “2010-12-25 – Christmas Morning” would be how I would name the folder containing images of my family opening their Christmas gifts.

One thing that is worth mentioning: if you are like me, you probably have multiple days worth of personal photos on any given CF card. In this case, I still recommend that you organize them in to folders by date and description. I find that it makes it easier to find specific images later down the road.

When it comes time to design your Annual Album (I usually begin mine around Thanksgiving, as I like to give them as Christmas gifts), I recommend taking it month by month. Go through all of the images shot in each month, choosing some favorites and paying particular attention to things like birthdays, family vacations and major milestones. I then copy these favorite photos to a separate folder, named “Annual Album Edit.”

This new folder becomes my album selections and I simply begin designing from there. Depending on your skill-level, you can design the album using a program, such as InDesign (this is what I do), or through an online publishing site, such as Blurb or Shutterfly. The online sites will print and bind the album for you or you can have your own design printed through a lab, such as ProDPI or SharedInk.

When designing the album, I recommend at least one album spread per month, and sometimes much more if there was a major event during that time. You can include a date or short description, such as “Max’s First Steps” or “Daddy’s Birthday” to help keep the flow of the album moving. Depending on the size of your album, you’ll want to make sure that the photos are nicely spread out and not too small. Keep in mind that cramming 10-12 photos on an 8×8 page will likely make the images hard to see.

A few other notes about your album. I like to do the album as an 8×8 square album. It’s a nice size for grandparents and it means it’s not too expensive to make multiple copies. I also try not to obsess about retouching and Photoshop effects. After all, these are family snap shots and not professional images. If you get too caught up in trying to retouch everything, you’ll lose steam about May or so. And, lastly, because I give these albums as holiday gifts, I like to end the book with a photo of the kids on Santa’s lap. It’s not mandatory, but I find that it’s a lovely and fitting way to close the book.